John Sununu, Mitt Romney’s best/worst surrogate

at 01:57 PM ET, 07/17/2012

Two comments from former New Hampshire governor John Sununu this morning suggest that the Republican stalwart can be a less-than-helpful campaign surrogate for Mitt Romney.
Sununu is also known for his sense of humour. (Jim Cole - AP)

First, the doozy. On a Romney campaign conference call about small business, Sununu said: “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.” He walked the comment back later in the call, saying, “What I thought I said but what I didn’t say is the president has to learn the American formula for creating business.” Later, he told CNN, “frankly, I made a mistake.  I shouldn't have used those words. And I apologize for using those words.”

And earlier, on Fox News Channel Sununu said that Obama “has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia.”

Seeking to quell the potential controversy caused by Sununu’s remarks, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a more disciplined Romney surrogate (and a potential VP pick), told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell this afternoon that the former governor “has a knack for colorful language and can be very informative and entertaining,” and that in this case he “admitted perhaps he wasn’t as clear as he should have been.”

That Sununu is verbose, controversial and combative is beyond dispute. (In multiple interviews, Sununu has pushed the idea that Obama has ties to felons. On Monday he told Fox News that the president was “wallowing with felons” in Chicago.)

Sununu is so reliably eyebrow-raising that Politico’s Dylan Byers has started a “John Sununu series,” posting clips of the Romney adviser without comment.

But New Hampshire GOP strategists argue that Sununu is a campaign asset precisely because of his pugnacious, no-fear attitude.

“He is not your milquetoast metrosexual talking point surrogate,” said consultant Dave Carney, a longtime Sununu confidante who worked for Texas Gov. Rick Perry during the Republican presidential primary this cyle. “I would take Sununu on my side over a dozen pretty talking heads every day. Rough edges and all.”

Steve Duprey, a New Hampshire GOP veteran who ran the state party for nine years, agreed.

“He takes the battle to Obama in direct, clear and simple language,” Duprey said. “Everyone in this business goes off message from time to time, and some, like Vice President Biden, only hit message by accident.”

To see what Republicans like about Sununu, just check out this video of the campaign surrogate in an extended argument with Mitchell.

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Sununu as surrogate is clearly a double-edged sword for Romney. Yes, he riles up the base with his take-no-prisoners, make-no-apologies approach to politics. But, that approach can occasionally look just a bit too aggressive or off-key.

 
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